Hi friends! Today I’m going to tackle a topic that is a total game changer for your crochet business: how to setup a product flat lay. Having eyecatching photos of your product is going to make sure your items are seen and in-turn boost your business. Many of us are not professional photographers, so this may not come naturally for you. But with these tips and tricks, you’ll be setting up beautiful photos in no time!
This is the second week of our Pineapple & Pine Skills Focus Series on ‘Photography for Instagram’. For week one tips on lighting your photos, check out Sarah’s post at A Plush Pineapple. Along with my own advice, I’ll be featuring some thoughts from Ashley at The Maker Brand Co. Ashley specializes in helping makers with their business branding and vision. And she also has a great eye for flay lay photography! So let’s get into it.
What is a Flay Lay?
Before we get into how to setup a product flat lay, let’s go over what a flay lay actually is. A flat lay is essentially just a type of photo composition. It is characterized by laying items down flat and taking the photo from above. This type of photography is very common in the handmade business arena as it allows makers to showcase their products in an eye-catching way.
Flat lay photography varies greatly because each photo reflects a bit of the photographers style. Someone who tends to prefer minimalist styles, will likely lean toward more minimalist flat lays. The same can be said for someone with more eclectic tastes. It may take some playing around to find a style that fits you best. I highly recommend checking out Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration.
The first step in learning how to setup a product flat lay is choosing your background. I have found that background choice is highly dependent on your style.
1) Think About Your Feed
Since we’re focusing on Photography for Instagram, the first thing you want to consider is how you want your overall feed to look. Sarah (@aplushpineapple) for instance loves a clean, consistent look on her feed so she uses a faux fur background for nearly all of her photos. I (@craftingforweeks), on the other hand, like my page to be a bit more colorful and unpredictable so I mix up my backgrounds pretty regularly.
It took me awhile to choose this style. If you scroll my feed far enough, you’ll see how I experimented with different things. This is also a good time to think about incorporating your brand. Sarah wanted a “plush” background because her brand is A Plush Pineapple. If your brand has a more rustic or outdoorsy feel, you might consider a wood background. When in doubt, a plain white background is a good starting point.
If you’re not quite sure what you want your feed to look like, I recommend scrolling Instagram for a bit and taking notice of which photos stand out to you. Make a note of which backgrounds are used in photos that your eye is drawn to. Pick a few to try out and possibly interchange on your feed.
2) Choose your Background Material
Once you have an idea of what style of background you like, its time to actually get one! It’s best to pick one that is clean and simple. I’m going to go over a couple different options for background materials.
Chances are, you probably don’t have a beautifully-aged barn wood door lying around to use for your photos. But if you do, by all means, use that! But you might have some decent wood floors or a nice wood table that will do that trick. Experiment with your existing surfaces.
If you don’t have any, but you love the authenticity of real wood, get creative! Try creating your own simple background from an old pallet and some wood stain. Or check your craft or home decor stores for some wooden breakfast trays. My go-to background choice is actually a piece of white markerboard from Lowe’s. It cost $10 and its about 4′ x 8′ so most of my larger flat lay set ups will fit on it. And bonus, I can wipe it clean.
A popular alternative to wood is paper. One of the main reasons for this is that you can buy posterboard that is printed with wood grain designs. This is a very budget-friendly way to get a nice background. You’ll likely find a variety of different printed posterboards at your local craft store, including plain white, if that’s your style.
This is a great option if your still trying to nail down your style. You can try several different backgrounds for just a few dollars. However, in my experience, the posterboards do not last long. They tend to get dirty, wrinkle or tear with time, especially if you have kids running around. Just something to keep in mind.
Another way to use paper is scrapbooking paper. This is good for photographing smaller objects like stitch markers or earrings.
Vinyl backdrops are actually pretty great. They’re PVC materials and commonly used by professional photographers. They come in all sorts of prints, like solid colors, wood, marble, brick…etc. Plus they’re durable, you can roll them up to store and wipe them off if they get dirty. However, they are a bit of an investment. If you know your style already though, these are a great choice.
Fabric is always a great background option. While it can be as simple as a solid colored sheet (iron it first!!), you can also get creative with your fabrics. As I mentioned, Sarah uses faux fur for her photos. I believe her fabric is actually a small area rug, but you can also buy faux fur by the yard at your local fabric store.
Don’t be afraid to play with different fabric options. Textured blankets, placemats, or even other finished crochet projects can work. I often will use one of the brightly colored area rugs in my house as a background as well. If you choose to give fabric a try, just be mindful of wrinkles.
Like I mentioned before, I like to mix my backgrounds up pretty regularly. This means that I sometimes pick a random background just to switch it up. For instance, I recently took a photo of a work-in-progress bunny outside on the pebbled cement. I also have a little pink plant stand that is sometimes fun to add in now and then.
3) Light your Background
No matter what background you go with, you’re going to need a good natural light source nearby. I like to set up my flat lays near a window. This way I get bright natural light, but not direct sunlight. You can also work outside in a shaded area or while its overcast. For some more tips on lighting and what to do if you don’t have natural light, check out Sarah’s post here.
Building Your Flat Lay
Once you have your background chosen and near a good light source, it’s time to move on to the next section of how to set up a product flat lay. You need to start building your flat lay! There’s a couple approaches to building a flat lay. Some people like to add their main focus item (the thing you’re trying to sell!) first and work around it, while others like to create the setup first and add the main focus item towards the end. With a little practice you’ll find a style that works for you.
Now when creating your setup, there’s a few key components that you’ll want to work on to keep your photos interesting. You might choose a couple of these items or maybe all of them depending on your style. I, personally like to add a few to each photo, and mix them up to give my Instagram feed variety.
1) Color/Color Scheme
One thing to keep in mind as you begin to create your flat lay is a color. While a flat lay is a great opportunity to play with color for your instagram feed, its best to begin with a general color scheme in mind. For instance, if I’m going for a monochromatic photo, I’m going to choose elements in the same color family. Or if I’m aiming for something rainbow-y, I’m going to choose a wide variety of colors. Perhaps if my feed features a pop of red throughout, I will be looking for what my red accent will be. Color is a great starting point for a flat lay.
Texture is so important to adding visual interest to a photo. Now, I could just lay an item down on a plain, white background and snap a nice photo. This is a nice starting point to learning about lighting and shadows, but if you want to step up your flat lay game, you need to add some textural elements.
Textural elements often come in the way of fabrics or natural elements. While you can get some visual interest from choosing a textured background, many people like to start with a basic background and add props. Some great things to add are wood, faux fur, stone…etc. Experiment with layering your textures a bit. For example, if your background is faux fur, you might add a wood tray on top of it. Or if you have a plain white background, try adding a colorful piece of fabric (or yarn if that’s what you specialize in). Ultimately various textures will add depth to your photos.
3) Photo Props
I’m sure you’re thinking “Talk about props! How do I choose props?!” Photos props are another one of those personal style items. Some people LOVE props and will use several in a photo. While others might pick one or two and call it good. I tend to lean more minimalistic in the photo prop arena, but this is because I like to use more color saturated backgrounds. General rule, if your background or main focus item is busy, go easy on the props.
There’s a few things to keep in mind when selecting props. One is the relative size of the prop to your main focus item. A huge prop for a small item is going to take over the photo. Another thing to think about is if you can be adding texture with your prop; we love texture! And finally, try to stay on brand and on topic with your props. If you’re photographing wine, and add a small cheese tray, then you’re on topic. But if you’re photographing earrings and add a small cheese tray, it’s confusing. Y’know, unless your earrings are shaped like cheese, I guess.
Since selecting props can be a bit tricky, so I’ll give you some ideas on what to look for around your house or while you’re shopping.
- Seasonal items and decoration (ex: Christmas ornament, spring flowers…)
- Tools related to your craft (crochet = hooks, stitch markers…etc)
- Components used to create your item (crochet hat = leftover yarn, pom)
- Complementary items to your item (ex: beachwear + sunglasses, yarn + coffee, handmade soap + candles)
4) Human Touch
Sometimes your photo is just missing “something”. Chances are that it’s missing you! Adding a human element like a hand or having your legs or feet in the frame totally changes the dynamic of a photo. So if your photo just feels a little off, try adding a human touch
Plants are one of my favorite things to add to a flat lay. I’m a little biased because I am a total plant lady. But they’re a great way to add a pop of color and a little bit of texture to your flat lay. Adding some greenery to the corner of your shot can give it a more finished look. Of course, be mindful of your color scheme when adding a plant. If green wasn’t in the plan, it might be more distracting than helpful.
6) Main Focus Item
Ok, this is the star of the show, the thing you’re trying to sell. I put it in last, because I generally try to make sure that it’s on the top layer. However, you can assemble your flat lay however you choose. You might opt to place this item first and work from there.
When you’re placing your main focus item, you want to make sure that its the main focus. Duh, right? But the idea is that everything else in the flat lay frames your product. So if one of your other elements or even your background is detracting from your superstar, you might consider removing it. When it all boils down, you want your main focus item to shine!
Want to See Building a Flat Lay in Action?!
Ashley from The Maker Brand Co and I talked about this live on the Pineapple and Pine Instagram. You can listen to us break down the process, and watch Ashley assemble a series of flat lays live! Check out the video here!
Flat lay photography is an art. Like all art, it takes some practice to get the hang of it. And also like many forms of art, you use different compositions to draw your eye to a focal point. When I say composition, I’m talking about the arrangement of all the elements that you’ve compiled for your flat lay. Here’s some tips to help you arrange your flat lays.
1) Create Shapes
Believe it or not, the eye naturally looks for structure in a photo. You can create subtle shapes in your flat lays to pull the eye toward your main focus item. For example, you might use an L-shape at the edge of your photo to frame around your main focus item. Or you might use a texture element in a curve or a triangle to direct the eye where it should go. A popular and simple option is to have a circle or square object to help pull focus to the center of the shape. So when you’re arranging your flat lay, keep an eye out for those shapes.
2) Use Negative Space
So one misconception in learning how to setup a product flat lay is that you need to fill your photo with all the things. While this is definitely a personal style option, it’s ok to leave empty space. In fact, you can utitlize this negative space to your advantage, especially if you tend towards more minimalist style. You can be intentional with your blank spaces in order to frame your main focus item. Think of the unused space as a matte on a photo. You can use those empty spaces to highlight your main focus item.
3) Centralize your Main Focus Item
You always want to remember that the purpose of your photo is to highlight that main focus item. So when you’re composing your flat lay, make sure the eye is going towards it. You don’t necessarily need to place your item in the center of the photo. But it does need to be the focal point of your photo. Sometimes we can get a cool prop and try to make the main focus item “share” the spotlight, and this is where you can often end up with a busy looking photo. By keeping your focus on your superstar and letting everything else sing back-up, you will end up with a more clear and pleasing photo.
Now, composing a flat lay can take some time. If you’re like me, with little ones constantly threatening to run off with your props, it’s tempting to set up a flat lay, snap a half-hearted photo and be done. But don’t be afraid to rearrange your work after that first set of photos. Sometimes taking a moment to stop and change the placement of your items will give you a much better result. Try a few different arrangements and if possible, have a couple back up props available to swap out.
Most of all be patient with yourself. Some people have an eye for this type of photography and it comes pretty naturally to them. My sister is one of those people. She can set up a flat lay for me in just a few minutes and have amazing photos right away. I, on the other hand, have to try a little harder to get a photo that I’m happy with. Don’t get discouraged, just keep practicing!
Getting The Shot(s)
Ok, so it’s the moment that we’ve been waiting for! We’ve got a well-lit background, we chose our elements, we composed our flat lay just so, and now it’s time to take a photo. Actually, let’s take a whole bunch. Grab your camera of choice (mine is my Iphone), and let’s get to it!
1) Frame your Shot
Traditionally, a flat lay is taken from directly above. So stand over your arrangement, or even on a chair or step stool. Be mindful of your own shadow, you don’t want that in the frame. Using a tripod is also good option if you’re going to be doing a lot of snapping and rearranging. Then you’re going to take your photo! Take one, then look at it on your screen. Oftentimes you won’t notice minor details that are off until after you get a picture.
2) Focus on your Superstar
When you’re taking your photos, make sure that you’re getting that main focus item in the frame. Don’t get distracted by all the pretty things you set up. Let them fall out of the frame, if need be, so you can focus on your moneymaker!
3) Zoom In/Out
Don’t just take one frame and assume that you’ve got everything you need. Now is the time to get close-up or back up slightly and get a wider frame shot. After you’ve done all the work to get to this point, it’s best to have options when it’s time to edit. Be especially mindful to leave yourself room if you will be adding graphics or text to your photo.
4) Play with Angles
While a flat lay is traditionally taken from right above the setup, jump out on the limb and play with some angles. This is a great opportunity to practice your photography skills. Take some from the side and below. Ashley has some really cool tips in our live interview for making sure the background of the angled shots is great too! You might also be able to capture some texture and depth that you did get from above.
Well that about wraps up this breakdown of how to setup a product flat lay. I hope you picked up a couple things you can use in your own business. And don’t forget, practice makes perfect! Also be sure to come back for next week’s Skills Focus to read up on some photo editing tips and tricks.
Until next time, Happy Crafting!